How Did We Acquire our “Sin Nature”

We all sin — that is we all commit acts of sin. Grudem defines sin as any deviation from God’s moral law in act, attitude or nature. It doesn’t take more than 15 seconds to come to agreement with most people about that fact, if they acknowledge any kind of a higher power.

The Bible affirms at least two other layers of sin in our lives. Since we are all “children of Adam” we share in our forefather’s original act of sin — to disbelieve God and take of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Paul summarizes this in the the fifth chapter of the letter to the Romans, “as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.” (Rom 5:19). Grudem calls this “inherited guilt”. We were born guilty, because we are of Adam’s race. This is an “imputed” sin — God accounted Adam’s sin to all mankind. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned,” (Rom 5:12) states that Adam’s sin spread to all of us, even without a law to break.

Yet there is this other type of sin — indwelling corruption. We all feel it, we all know it, we all attempt to rationalize/minimize/overcome/ignore/medicate it away. Yet it always lingers, not far from our consciousness, unless we are very hardened to its effects. We are by nature oriented to do things our way. Paul cries out, “Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24) after expounding on the tension of living with his corrupted nature — even as a Christian. James describes it this way, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully developed brings forth death.” (James 1: 14-15). And the apostle John, who affirms a life of growing sanctification, also states, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8).

The writers of scripture affirm that we all live with a corrupt nature. Those with Christ ruling our souls are no longer slaves to this corruption, yet we need to fight daily to “mortify sin” according to John Owen quoting from Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

A question arose after class several weeks ago — when did humans acquire this indwelling corruption? How did it start? I have been meditating on this for several weeks now.

One way to begin the discussion is to ask a related question — What is the real nature of our corruption? When we speak of our indwelling propensity to sin (violate the moral law of God) what is that?

John Owen, in his treatise on Indwelling Sin, states that sin is a “law” within us (based on Romans 7:21) — that is a form of dominion and efficacy over us. Further on he affirms that this comes from our “heart” — that is, our mind, affections, and will. This reflects James statement about our “luring and enticing” ourselves into temptation. So it is from within our own souls that the enemy resides. This is truly a battle within us. But where did this come from, when did it start.

Going back to Genesis 2 and 3 is useful. God gave Adam the first command and finished with the warning, “in the day that you shall eat of eat you shall surely die.” The death was an eventual physical death that all of us share. But the death was also profoundly a spiritual death. It was at the point of the violation of that first command that death entered into our spiritual souls and separated us from a relationship with God. That separation led to all the early manifestations of sin in Adam’s family: noticing their nakedness, fear of God, hiding from God, blaming the woman for giving of the fruit, blaming God for the woman, anger between the siblings Cain and Abel, and the first murder.

As this corruption spread and mankind grew God came to this conclusion, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) This remains true of the human race today. It remains true for each individual on the planet, and is changed only by a new birth. This new birth does not completely eliminate the corrupt nature, but gives us the hope and resources to overcome our corrupting nature. So John Piper can rightly encourage us to “be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”

This battle against our corrupt nature is a daily, hourly, moment by moment battle. And it cannot be won by utilizing human strength. It can only be won by the Spirit. A mind set on the Spirit gives life and peace. An indwelling of the Spirit (who raised Jesus from the dead) will also give life to our mortal bodies. The Spirit helps us in our weakness, and intercedes for us, even when we can only groan. (Romans 8)

So our corrupt nature came into being the moment Adam and Eve reached out to defy God’s moral command — trusting in themselves instead of the righteous God who created them. Our corrupt nature is part of our very being, alienating us from God, focusing our needs on the flesh. However, in Christ, through faith in his redeeming work on the cross we are given the Spirit of life and peace who intercedes in our weaknesses, overcoming our corrupt nature day by day as we trust Him.

The gospel of Christ saves us daily from our corruption. And at the end we will be glorified and released from our corruption for all eternity. Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus.

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